Early on the morning of July 2, the 1600 block of South 56th Street in southwest Philadelphia exploded with the sound of gunfire. It was so loud that Zahirah Muhammad threw herself under her bed. “I didn’t know if it was coming from the back street behind me or in front of me,” she recalled in an interview.
But a woman across the street knew. Around midnight, she had seen a man dressed in black standing at the door of Joseph Wamah’s house. The man at the door loudly announced that he was the police, then the sheriff, she said, and then he opened fire. The man burst through the door, she recalled; more gunshots rang out, and soon after the man ran out of the house and down the street.
The woman waited for the police to arrive, assuming neighbors would call 911. But more than an hour passed. So she called 911 herself, she said, and told everything to the dispatcher who answered.
But police never showed up.
On Monday, police officials in Philadelphia explained how the apparent error of a 911 dispatcher that morning meant that the deadly gunfire on South 56th Street was not known by authorities until the following night. By then, the man now suspected of having killed Mr. Wamah had already carried out one of the city’s deadliest mass shootings.
As police first disclosed on Sunday evening, after the 911 call early on the morning of July 2, a dispatcher sent officers to the wrong address — North 56th Street instead of South 56th Street, which is three miles away in a different police district. As the police would later determine, Mr. Wamah was killed by the man who had burst in the door. And the man charged in Mr. Wamah’s death is Kimbrady Carriker, who prosecutors said stalked the neighborhood the next evening wearing a mask and body armor, firing his assault-style rifle wildly and killing four people.
Arrested soon after, Mr. Carriker, 40, was charged with murder and other offenses and is now being held without bond.
The city’s police commissioner, Danielle M. Outlaw, said in a news conference that the discovery of the error “compounds the tragedy that already occurred” and that it was under administrative investigation.
But she insisted that even if police had shown up to the right address on July 2, Mr. Wamah would likely have already been dead. It was also unclear, she added, if police would have been able to prevent the massacre the next day. Though investigators have since obtained video footage of the shooter entering Mr. Wamah’s house, the man in the video was masked, officials said. They were able to tie Mr. Wamah’s killing to Mr. Carriker by matching the shell casings at the scene to the gun Mr. Carriker was carrying when he was arrested on July 3.
“While it may have given us an investigative lead, the likelihood of cutting that off or cutting off what happened later on, we just don’t know,” Ms. Outlaw said.
In the neighborhood, many were unconvinced. Even if police had not immediately arrested Mr. Carriker, some said, they would have been on alert that there was a killer in the neighborhood.
“They definitely could have prevented this,” said Nyshyia Thomas, 34, whose 15-year-old son, Dajuan Brown, was killed in the mass shooting on July 3. “I feel as though the police department, the city of Philadelphia, has failed me.”
The woman who said she had called 911, identifying herself only as Nadirah in an interview on Monday, said that she had made two calls and that at one point, someone else, identified by police as a supervisor, had called, asking her to confirm the address. But the confusion persisted. The person on the phone told her that officers were there, she said, but she saw no one.
“If they would have came, they would have found him,” she said, speaking of Mr. Wamah, whose front door was still standing open when she spoke with 911. It was closed later that morning, she said.
At the news conference, Deputy Commissioner Frank Vanore explained how police eventually pieced together what had happened. After the shooting on July 3, a family member went to check on Mr. Wamah and notified police after finding his body. While police initially did not know when Mr. Wamah had been killed, they found the evidence linking him to Mr. Carriker and considered Mr. Wamah the fifth victim of the mass shooting.
But in the days that followed, the medical examiner concluded that Mr. Wamah died long before the other victims of the mass shooting. Several people on the street also told detectives about the gunfire early on July 2. Police looked at camera footage of Mr. Wamah’s house early Sunday morning, and they saw what the 911 caller had reported: a man firing a gun and then going into the house.
Though the killing of Mr. Wamah on July 2 appears to have been more targeted than the erratic shooting the following night, Mr. Vanore said that investigators had yet to find any prior connection between Mr. Wamah and Mr. Carriker.
Ms. Outlaw insisted that it was impossible to say how things might have unfolded differently had officers been sent to the right address. However, she said, concerns about Mr. Carriker could have been raised by people who knew him, and who have told police that he had been acting erratically in the days before the massacre.
“We do know that there were some that were around the suspect, prior to this happening, that maybe could have reported some of the information that was known to them,” she said. “Maybe this could have prevented this from happening. But, even then, we don’t know.”